Student Debt: Lives on Hold


Millions of Americans who went to college seeking a better future now face crushing debt from student loans—while the industry makes a handsome profit. How a broken system landed so many in this mess.

How many people with kids approaching college are starting to see stories like this and getting worried? We’ve all been taught for the past several decades that college is the ticket to the middle class, but it now seems to be a lead weight around their necks.


No surprise.

In prior generations, everybody understood that debt was to be avoided where possible; now it seems to be a rite of passage.



I made it easier for my parents, and went to community college while living at home and working.

Don’t want crippling debt? Don’t take out loans you can’t repay. I’m fairly certain that most 18-year-olds don’t go to state schools to get an education. They go to get away from their parents and sow their wild oats at someone else’s expense. They want the “college experience”.

I’m 24. Not only am I debt free, I have about 15 grand to my name, almost all of which I earned. Heaven forbid that my special snowflake contemporaries actually be taught (gasp) responsibility!


I have said this before, but I’ll say it again.

Possibly the most striking example of a utilitarian university was the one I attended, lo, these many years past. It was in an urban area, right next to a slum. It had two or three buildings that were actually built for the university, but had bought some old hotels and some houses that it used for additional space. The grounds consisted in a patch of grass between buildings, but a good part of it was simply paved. The parking lot was largely filled with five-to-ten year old Chevys, Fords and Chryslers. The university was affordable.

A few miles away was a university for the truly wealthy. Beautiful gothic buildings, even the new ones. Walkways, arcades, and a parking lot full of Mercedes, Ferraris (no kidding) and the like. It was a breathtakingly expensive university to attend.

Today, my old university has lavish new buildings, exquisite landscaping, marble this and fountains of that, and it’s a long way from being inexpensive. It has expanded its grounds massively, but still has about the same number of students as it did before.

Did it really need fancy fountains and statuary and marble and lavish dormitories, when it operated just fine with old hotels, blackboards and chalk? I sometimes think overbuilding and gold plating on government loan money have had a big hand in making education virtually unaffordable.


College and debt is possible the best example of what is wrong with our country. First we are fed the lie everyone must go to college. For a supposedly individualistic people we go along with this unquestionably. Next we get the government to ‘help’ make this dream true for everyone. This drives up the price because whenever you subsidize something that is what happens. Then the government gets its partners the financial industry involved in the racket. Finally they make it so this is the one form of debt you can’t escape. And often overlooked is the fact that the government runs the secondary education business. Sure there are private schools, but government education is the bulk of the market.

The solution is of course true privatization and freeing the market. But that won’t happen. Well just dig a deeper hole as we usually do.


The irony is that the “free college” crowd is blaming the free market for a problem the government created. The ones they should be angry with are the academic indocrinators that charge so such, not us libertarians who simply want to be left alone and to keep what we’ve earned.


I suspect many students have borrowed more than they actually needed (for tuition, books, etc.) and splurged on cars, nice apartments, and high living. It would be better to borrow as little as possible and live like you’re poor.


I think part of the problem is that students (and their parents) just don’t seem to want budget higher education. They seem to want the fancy dorm rooms and the rock climbing walls. Of course, the colleges have been only too happy to accommodate them.


I hope this shows more than how old I am. Tuition for my senior year of college was $1100 at a private, Catholic, Franciscan, college. Most of that was paid by an academic scholarship based on competitive tests. My first job after college paid $650 per month for a BA in philosophy and a year of graduate theology. I was broke, but had no debt.

Todays tuition at that same institution is $26,998, and it has made the US News and World Report list of best bargains in education. If salaries had kept up with tuition increases, today’s starting salary would be $15,953 per month, or $191,440 per year. There would be no debt crisis with those numbers.

Ridgerunner is correct that most of the economic growth in this sector went to the institutions of higher learning rather than to their customers, the students.


Don’t get me started on that.

We’re fed this lie from Mommy, Daddy, the guidance counselor, and worst of all, peers.

A wise man, one of my high school teachers, even though he taught college prep classes, told us years ago that we should look into opportunities other than college.

I know what four years of college got me. Besides the annoyance of having to pay for it, it got me the privilege of having potential employers laugh at me and not hire me because I was a college grad.


You paint with a brush that’s far too broad. I’m 26, went to a state school 40 minutes from home. Cost me just shy of 50 grand, of which I still have 24.4k to pay.

The cost is ridiculous and it’s not because people are going out of state or to private schools.


The greed of Big Education is a horrific thing to behold.

The first step in popping this bubble is to admit it is a bubble. And all bubbles will pop. People need to stop borrowing money for college. They need to have their kids go to community college and stay at home to cut down on costs. They need to have their kids start working and begin saving and budgeting so they can manage money on their own.

  1. Why didn’t you go to a cheaper community college?

  2. Did you live at home, at least for a couple years to cut down on costs? (40 minute commute isn’t that bad, honestly).

  3. Did you take out loans for just tuition, or did you take out loans for dorms, meal plans, fees, books, living expenses, etc?)

  4. Did you have a job in college?

  5. Did you live in a cheap apartment or dorm? If not, why not?


I’m not only talking about out-of-state and private schools. My brother went to Kansas State, and it wasn’t cheap. His freshman year was during the recession, when my dad was laid off and my mom only working part-time. They paid out-of-pocket.

My problem is with those who act like you’re violating human rights by not wanting college subsidized by the taxpayer. Even if we taxed the richest 1% into poverty and ceased military spending for 10 years, we still wouldn’t be able to meet the demand for free college.


That doesn’t help when the cost of one year is more than you can earn in a year, your credits from community college don’t transfer, and you can’t get a job with an associates degree. :shrug:


I am not sure how we would establish that the greed of higher education is worse than the greed of accountants, or plumbers, or investment bankers. Certainly, those who work in higher education are as self interested as anyone. On the other, there are budget alternatives in higher education and many people choose to forgo them.


A few things I did right:

*]Lived at home for the undergrad years. But there were tensions between me and my parents and it was sometimes quite stressful.
*]Got scholarships during this time, not huge ones but they helped.
*]Worked part time on campus and during the summers.

Things I did wrong or wish I’d known in hindsight:

*]The cost of ANY debt. How to figure compound interest.
*]How to delay gratification. Combine ADHD with depression with retail therapy and you’ve got a train wreck in the making.
*]Where to find help for the mental health issues that made it hard to stick with any job.
*]That just because you go to college doesn’t mean you’re going to find a high-paying dream job.
*]Never, EVER, get student loans out of desperation more to live on than to pay for school-related expenses. I never had a loan my first round of college but decided to go back 10+ years later to try and get into a different field. It didn’t work. I ran out of money and now those stupid loans still dog me.

Things I’d recommend to others:
*]Train in a trade - whether as a career path or a fallback. Try to do this as cheaply as possible, not at some over-commercialized fly-by-night trade school that will also encourage you to take out loans. Maybe apprentice with someone, learn online, be self-taught, etc.
*]Avoid the student loan trap even if it means compromise or a longer road to your educational goals. You’ll still get there, and in better shape.
*]Not that I’m recommending bankruptcy for anyone, but know that you CANNOT bankrupt out of a student loan if you get in the hole. You’re stuck, stuck, stuck. Whereas with other loans you can negotiate a consumer credit counseling solution or something, you can’t with student loans.
*]Know that when you’re young and healthy, you may think you could never become disabled with all that entails, well before retirement age, and have to live off a small fixed income. It can happen to anyone. And though there is a procedure to have student loans forgiven for disability, it is very strict and fraught with potential tax issues that could come back to bite you.

  1. Work the job, and save up the money first. Or at least work the job and it REDUCES the costs or what you have to borrow.

  2. Attend an accredited community college, and earn your AA degree. Those transfer to virtually all state schools.

  3. Nonsense. Many jobs don’t need a degree. Unless it’s a specialized field (medicine, law, accounting, etc) a degree is meaningless after a couple years on the job. Experience, aptitude and motivation are what matter.


Where I live being a plumber, just as an example, would be a far better idea then going to college. You can start making money, rather than spending it, almost right away. You can charge extra for late night or weekend work whereas the average wage slave just has to work that for his salary. You can have a nice house, a nice vacation house and nice cars paid for after a couple of decades of work.

I don’t think plumbers are necessarily greedy. I do think the other professions are able to use the government to their advantage. They help enact laws that solidify their position in the market by ensuring demand for their services and preventing competition. In union states you could add plumbers to the list but thankfully not all states are unionized and plumbing hasn’t been made a federal issue. Higher education has things like tenure and long summer vacations which most jobs don’t have.


WRT #3: I don’t know about other fields, but people I know in their 50s are finding that their applications are in the first round accepted or rejected Partly based on if they went to college. One man I know was rejected for a job on a computer system he helped design because he didn’t have a degree. It’s a buyers market…

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